Western Turkey - Personal Journal
- Thursday, 2 April 1998
Our plane touched down in Istanbul at 12:08 pm after a flight that
lasted 8 hours 52 minutes, the longest non-stop flight we have endured to date.
First stop in the airport is to pay our entrance fee into Turkey. They call it
a visa fee. We had expected a $20 fee. Turned out to be $45. Currently (Sept
2005) the visa fee for US passport holders is $20 for a single entry visa and
$65 for multiple entries. By the way - they want payment in US dollars. We were
at the front of the line at the ticket counter so this didn't take very long.
Next we got into the line to have our passports stamped. This line moved very
slowly for some reason. The stamper must have been memorizing the contents of
everyone's passport. Why else would he have looked at each passport so
Now it was on to the luggage carousel to pick up our bags. Geri's
arrived, Jim's did not. Fortunately it would show up at the hotel about 24
hours later and we would learn that it had gone to Athens. Next time we will
cross-pack. We'll put some of Geri's clothes in Jim's bag and visa versa. We
must remember not to cross-dress however.
At the last stop before leaving the airport we converted US
dollars into Turkish lira. Our tour handbook suggested that we change $200 per
person. We had been prepared to do that but since the visa fee was more than
expected we had only $180 each to convert. For $360 we got, are you ready?
84,235,000 TL. We were now multi-millionaires. At the end of the Turkey
portion of our trip we had only about $20 worth of lira left. We donated that
The official conversion rate was 241,600 lira per dollar which was
then discounted 3% and a 130,464 TL fee was added. Finally they rounded down to
the next 5,000 lira. That's how 360 US dollars became 84,235,000 Turkish lira.
By late April 2001 the conversion rate for the Turkish lira had
reached 1,250,000 lira to the dollar! By 2005 inflation was somewhat under
control in Turkey and the value of the Turkish lira has been fairly steady for
at least two years. I think is was sometime in 2004 when six zeros were striped
from the currency resulting in a 1,000,000 lira bill becoming a 1 lira bill.
Today (Sept 2005) we would get only about 475 Turkish lira for our $360.
About half of our ETBD tour members arrived in Istanbul on the
same Delta flight. The hotel van was at the airport to collect us all. Finally
we were all in the van, stuffed in like sausages with our luggage. The route to
the hotel displayed a mix of views, as we drove around the peninsula on Caddesi
Kennedy by the Marmara Sea. Beautiful carpets were hanging out on the balconies
of several buildings. Some of the buildings appeared ready to collapse under
the weight of the carpets.
I have read that in the early centuries, when a visiting king or
hero was expected, everyone would hang carpets and kilims out of windows, so
that the whole city would be aglow with their wondrous colors. The ones we saw
were probably just being aired, but it did make a nice welcoming touch.
It was the contrast of sturdy buildings next to decrepit looking
buildings that got my attention on this day. Just as I was thinking that the
street we were on looked like the rougher areas of LA, we turned the corner
into what looked like the outlying sections of Tijuana.
There was our hotel in the midst of this poor neighborhood,
looking quite out of place with its clean painted yellow exterior. Around the
corner was a playground with a dirt surface only a few feet below the ledge of
a cliff where some young shepherd boys were guarding cows and sheep. Above that
a section of old city wall still stood.
We arrived at the hotel at about 1:30 pm, almost exactly 24 hours
after our alarm went off at home. At 3:30 we walked to the Hippodrome, Blue
Mosque and the Aya Sophia. We made our first purchase, a scarf. The asking
price was 2,000,000 TL but we drove a hard bargain and got the price down to
1,500,000 or about $6. We probably paid too much.
We were besieged by young boys selling postcards, tour books, and
little wooden tops. We were approached by and chatted with four carpet
salesmen. They always began by asking if we were from America. When we said yes
they said they wanted to practice their English. Soon they were asking us to
visit their carpet shop for a cup of apple tea. We didn't. By the time the
fourth one walked up to us Jim knew what was coming and said "you want to sell
us a carpet don't you?" He hung his head and admitted the truth. He added, "but
I'm an innocent carpet salesman." They were all quite charming.
On our first outing we discovered that language was no more of an
issue than when ordering at a fast food restaurant at home.
By 5:00 we were back near the hotel. We bought a 1.5 liter bottle
of water and four oranges for 275,000 TL or about $1.15. We were too tired to
go find a place to eat so for dinner we ate the oranges and some of the snack
foods we had brought from home. Sunset was at 7:30. We were asleep by 8 pm.